Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


Conventions for Introverted Authors?

One of the things most writers I know dread is marketing. Ugh. We authors know how to write books, but then we have to do our darndest to sell them. Okay, no one said you had to actually sell any books you write and publish, but that’s the idea, isn’t it? We share our stories with people who love them, and then tell their friends and family how awesome your book is, and they tell their friends, and so on.

And in the author’s realm of wishful thinking, we’ll find ourselves on at least one best seller list, we’ll win all kinds of awards, and we’ll be getting invited to interviews on television! We’ll have lines of readers that stretch out of bookstores and around the block. We’ll get royalty checks that can actually pay for a whole book of stamps or two!

Hey, I said it was wishful thinking!

Except wishful thinking won’t get us there. We not only have to write great stories, compelling stories, create relatable and intriguing characters, we have to get as many people as we can to buy our book. We probably won’t get rich, but if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to fund a writing retreat to somewhere exotic, like Hawaii 🙂

People generally won’t buy books written by someone they’ve never heard of unless someone recommends it to them, or they meet you, the author. Then they know you, and they will be more inclined to buy your book. Hopefully they’ll tell their friends and family, and they will buy your book, and the ball will keep rolling.

So how do you get people to recognize your name without spending hours and/or lots of money on marketing stuff? Because, as we know, marketing is that dreaded-but-necessary task few of us are any good at. Tell me to write a book, I can do that. Tell me to put together an effective marketing campaign, and I can stumble through it, but I’m not good at it, and I dread it.

A good way to “get your name out there” is to go to conventions. No, not comic-cons dressed like a Jedi knight or a superhero, conventions for readers and writers. They have lots of panels, and that’s a great way for people to learn your name and a little bit about you. Granted, you’ll probably share the stage with three or four other writers, and a moderator, but when you consider there could be thirty or forty people (or more) attending your panel, that’s dozens more people than who knew your name before.

I’ll be going to Left Coast Crime in Tucson this spring. As an author attendee, I indicated I was interested in being on a panel when I registered. The organizers do a great job of giving authors at least one panel. I just got my panel assignment, as a panelist, not moderator. Yay, no extra books to read! Once I got my panel assignment, I went to the schedule to see what the other panels were.

And I notice a panel didn’t have a moderator.

Okay, remember the part about getting your name out there?

I now have four books to read before mid-March. But that’s more people who will recognize my name.

There are other opportunities to meet readers and writers, and I closed my eyes and jumped into the author-hosted table pool with a writer I met last year at LCC (incidentally, she moderated a panel I was on). Now I just have to figure out how much to spend on swag and what swag.

Ugh. Marketing.

Bottom line, if you have opportunities to meet readers, whether they’re meet the author events at a bookstore or library, or a reader convention especially, take them. Yep, you have to talk to people. Yep, there will be strangers there. But by the time the event is over, you will have met a lot of fellow readers and writers, made some new friends or met some critique partners, and for sure got your name out there.

I’m working through my revisions of Book 2 slowly; I do have four books to read in the next four weeks. Five, actually, because one of my critique partners suggested a book that happened to be written by the LCC guest of honor (that’s not why she suggested it, but I figure it’s a good reason to get it read before the convention).

Keep on writing!


Thinking outside your mindset #revising

One of the things often recommended to writers of all levels (well, okay, maybe not William Kent Kreuger, Nora Roberts, or Stephen King level) is to find a critique group. My Writing Sisters are a great example of a critique group, and when we get together every summer for our reunion retreat, we critique and offer constructive feedback to each for whatever project someone is working on.

That’s once a year. We used to hold monthly critique meetings, but we’re all at the stage now that when we would like help with something, we can ask the group, and we’ll have a virtual critique session when we do our monthly Zoom chats.

I was fortunate enough to come across another mystery writer, whom I’d never met, who put out a request for writers interested in a suspense critique group. It turns out the author is in Madison, WI. Another writer who expressed interest in joining is from Duluth! AND she has the same publisher I do. Talk about small world!

Anyway, we’ve been meeting about once a month for a little over a year, and wow, I feel so fortunate. One of our members has insight into writing that reminds me of my writing teacher. The other member is as of yet unpublished. Every time we meet, I always learn something, which is awesome.

Critique groups can be tricky. Finding one that is at a level that will be helpful to you at your level (that is, an accomplished writer vs a beginner) can be hit and miss. Finding one in which all the writers don’t hesitate to give advice or make observations that can be blunt, but nice about it, is even trickier.

Our suspense critique group hits those notes. Score! Each of my fellow writers offers great insights and feedback, and I learn something each time, even when it’s not my month for a critique.

So this month one of the other writers in the group was on the critique block. She’s writing the second book in an unpublished series; she’s got a great story started (we only exchange up to 5k words at a time), and great characters, and great writing, but there was too much stuff in the first few chapters that really didn’t move the story toward the mystery. I noticed it, but I couldn’t really put my finger on just what felt “off” about it.

Then our other member asked a question: Why does this have to be the second book in the series?


That was it. Once she asked that question, the writer under critique, who’s been struggling with the story, said she’d always thought of the book as the second one in the series.

So the next question was: Why?

I know I’m not the only writer out there who comes up with a brilliant story in their head, and gets things lined up a certain way, but when you start to write it, something about it makes it more of a struggle to write than it should be. And so often a writer keeps pushing in the same direction, even though somewhere deep down they know there’s something not quite right with it.

Ultimately, the question was the right one to ask, because as we discussed it, if the book was, say, the first of the series, the writer wouldn’t have to try to cram a bunch of backstory into the first few chapters. The writer truly appreciated the question, and that idea, that the book could be the first of the series, opened her to a possibility she hadn’t considered since she’d always thought of the book as the second in a series.

It’s almost like, “Hey, you can color outside the lines. It’s okay, and that might even add to the awesomeness of the picture.”

So, bottom line, critique groups are a great way to look at your work from different directions, and maybe even a direction you hadn’t even realized was there.

I turned in my homework this week, so I’m just waiting for the professor to get back to me. Until then I’m digging into my latest round of revision. It’ll be good to get Book 2 refined and back to my agent so I can work on my police procedural.

Happy writing!


Addressing Pacing #amrevising #amediting

If you caught my post last week, you know that I have yet another round of revise and resubmit for Book 2. I had a nice conversation with my agent this week about her concerns and various ways I could approach her concerns. And, apparently, a Bullitt car chase is not on the table (you’ll have to read last week’s post to get that one 🙂 )

The main concerns are weak-ish secondary characters, and pacing in the middle. I think I know how to handle the character issues. Part of that solution will be digging into the characters’ lives before the story starts. And today I actually came up with something that I think will work well.

However, that doesn’t address the pacing concerns. In a mystery, the idea is to have the sleuth discover clues that lead them to the culprit, but in a way that doesn’t slow the story down too much. In Book 2 a major source of clues is a collection of photographs along with notes in a journal, along with a map.

Not so exciting (and no, there aren’t any compromising photos in the mix), but essential to telling both the amateur sleuth and the reader who is involved and hint at a motive.

I printed out one of my writing teacher’s craft posts from the Blackbird Writers Discussion forum on FB. This post was about middles (posted on Jan 18, 2023: not sure this link will work, but here it is Writing craft post #3), timely for me. From Chris’s post, I see more than one mention of the middle being about action, movement.

Yikes. Then there’s reassurance–action can be big or small, but the middle has to be “active”. Thing is, I’ve created a threshold, that point where the main character hits that point in the story where she makes a choice to stop what she’s doing for reasons she believes are important enough that she feels going further down that path will hurt people she cares about.

And the reversal comes soon after, when something happens that forces her to cross that “threshold” (see, Chris, I did read the post 🙂 🙂 ). But that doesn’t help the earlier part of the middle that is less “active”.

Have you run into that issue, where you have a “saggy middle” in your story? The question is, how do I add more “action” without making it obvious? One thing I am doing is “what if”. You know, brainstorming by asking “what if”. What if her mentor’s relationship wasn’t as ideal as my MC thought? What if there aren’t notes to accompany the photos? What photos raise the most suspicion? What if the other photos are taken out of the scene completely? What if there are different pictures that raise suspicion and add clues more effectively? What would those look like? Would that prop up the pacing?

Anyway, you get the idea. I find asking “what if” is an effective way for me to work through ways to address stuff like this. I write out my “what if” questions in longhand as stream-of-consciousness. When the weather is nicer (and warmer) I talk through “what ifs” on walks. I’ve gotten through a lot of “hmm, now what” and “this doesn’t work right” situations this way.

IN any case, I have my writing teacher’s post close at hand. That way I have a direction of sorts for my “what ifs”.

Have you ever used the “what if” tool to work through problematic scenes? Do you use a different method of working through parts of your story that move more slowly than they could?

I have one more piece of homework to finish, then I’ll dig back into Book 2 armed with suggestions from my agent and whatever pops up during my “what if” sessions. I know something will percolate to the top that will be an AHA! That’s usually the way it works with me, and then I wonder why the hell didn’t my Muse mention that particular idea sooner 🙂

Anyway, after “enjoying” single-digit weather for the past week (not to mention double-digit below zero temps at night and negative double-digit windchills), we’re supposed get within spitting distance of freezing this weekend–woo hoo! Heat wave!

Keep on writing!

Throwback kitties: Nyx and Tibbers


Revise and return of the Muse #amrevising #amediting #MNwinter

I’m sitting in my writing office, my butt in a nice comfy recliner, laptop on my, well, lap. My mouse pointer hovers over the Word document my agent returned to me: Book 2 with her notes.

“G’day, love.”

“Thanks for scaring the shit outta me–not.” I try to slow my pulse. “You couldn’t use the door like usual?”

My Muse leans against the wall separating the alcove from the aforementioned door, arms crossed over his broad chest. He’s wearing wild tie-dyed sweatpants, a baja beach hoodie, and Birkenstocks–with no socks. His skin is burnished, his short blond hair sun-bleached at the edges. His slow smile deepens his dimples. “It’s cold outside.” He lifts a foot. “Forgot my boots.”

“Forgot your boots, my ass. I hope you enjoyed your walkabout in summery Aussie land, cuz it’s supposed to get nice and cold here.”

He chuckles, a deep rolling sound that makes the room feel warmer. Or maybe it’s just me. He grabs a bottle of water from the mini-fridge and settles into the recliner beside me. He smells like the beach, like sun and sand and coconut and ocean. “I did.”

“And I bet you thought about me exactly never.”

He chuckles again. Yep, pretty sure the room’s getting warmer. “Of course I thought about you, love.”

“Oh really? I have a hard time believing you were thinking about anything besides enjoying the sun and surf.”

“You got feedback from your agent on Book 2.”

“Well, if you know that, then you know I have yet another round of revision to do.” Yep, still not quite there. Pacing in the middle. The novelist’s bane.

“You make it sound like the book’s on it’s way into that drawer from which no manuscripts escape.”

“I know it’s not that bad. It just needs some tweaking. And less PDA. And less ho-hum. And more Bullitt car chases.”

“I’m going to have to stop you with that last one, love. No car chases in Book 2. And you already took out most of the PDA. Which is disappointing.”


“But I can see her point.”

“Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side with this.”

He sighs. “I am. But this is your ‘break away from your current publisher’ book, so your agent is right, and you know it.”

My turn to sigh. “I do. But I don’t know how I can step up the pacing in the middle without pulling more words. It’s already down to 81,000 words, which is 10,000 less that Book 1. And there’s the scene of the accident that isn’t. Without that … How do I keep up the tension? That’s part of the ramp-up to the climax.”

My Muse raises a brow. “You’ve already started working on a replacement for that scene.”

Grumble. “Yes, sort of. The replacement doesn’t address my agent’s concern, though. That that particular scene might be one too many for the purpose. My replacement scene would do the same thing, just be more, um …”


I can’t stop an eye roll. “Fine, yes.”

“So, when are you planning on looking at all her comments?”

I hover the mouse pointer over the file. “This weekend. I have homework to do, though. Pulling that neck muscle a few days ago didn’t help, either. I lost two days of work.”

“Yeah, that can be a pain in the neck.”

I give him my best side-eye. “Really? That’s the best you can do?”

He chuckles. “Do you have a deadline for your homework? You know, that really isn’t homework.”

“It is. I need to do it to finish my credit by exam.” I’m starting to think it would have been easier to take the class. Then again, a couple hundred dollars for 4 credits is way better than $1400 and four months of night classes for those same 4 credits. Unless the professor decides my credit for exam submissions aren’t good enough and I’ll have to take the class anyway. That’s the risk, despite the fact I have over a decade of experience to back up my credit by exam request.

“And when do you plan on reading the rest of your agent’s feedback? You talk to her on Tuesday.”

“I know. I’ll read her feedback before then.” And I’ll have to formulate some sort of response or fix for each of her concerns. Some will be easy–less PDA. Some, not so much.

“Don’t worry, love. We’ll figure it out. If nothing else, there’s always a Bullitt car chase.”

And that’s my plan for the weekend. Considering we’ve got arctic air sitting over us for the next week or so, keeping us far below freezing, I’m pretty sure I’ll get it done. Or, mostly done.

Happy Writing, and stay warm!

Kitty throwback: Nyx napping


Whoops! #amediting #amrevising

So, not only does my memory seem more faulty these days, I find myself completely pre-occupied by my writing projects. I’m working through the “before the overhaul” and the “after the overhaul” plots for my police procedural, and I just heard from my agent that there’s still a pacing problem with Book 2.

Guess what else is taking up precious brain bandwidth?

Not to mention all that routine stuff, like “I really need to clean this weekend” and “I really need to reorganize my working area” and “I wonder if the professor will accept my submissions for my exam for credit because I really don’t want to pay $1400 for the class.”

Needless to say, the realization that yes, it IS Saturday, and I’m supposed to post on my blog this morning, just hit me.

And my Muse is Down Under enjoying sun and surf and Summer, so I can’t rope him into writing a post.

So, here’s my “I forgot I had to post” post. Words of wisdom from my writing teacher, Christine DeSmet, one of the Blackbird Writers (you can find them on FB):

Post #4 of 5, techniques for novelists

Two examples of how color lifts a manuscript

…Using color consciously can help a manuscript become a standout for agents, editors, readers.

…Color—used as a device—creates emotional reactions in readers and characters. Color’s symbolism helps with plotting.

…Example 1: Author Kent Haruf

…In an online course I taught, I asked about color in one exercise. Kent Haruf’s great novel, PLAINSONG, begins with a teenage girl in a rough situation. She and her mother are alone, poor, the abusive mother shows disdain for her pregnant teenage daughter retching over the toilet bowl before going to school. The scene is sad, dark (and short). It’s mostly dialogue (with several dialogue techniques illustrated, by the way). When we go to the next scene, the girl dresses for school in nothing special, but she has a shiny red purse. When I asked adult writers what the red purse signified, the answers split evenly between women and men. Women felt the red purse meant the girl was grabbing for a degree of confidence and hope. The men felt the red purse signified a tart, a loose woman.

…No matter the interpretation, readers noticed the red purse. The novel, by the way, turns into a lovely story about community and “unlikely family” with humor. (If you liked A MAN CALLED OVE, you may enjoy PLAINSONG.)

…Haruf used the “red purse” as a signal in his plot. This story is set in a plain, small town—imagine gray and brown tones. The red purse has its own plot: it appears three significant times in the story. This helps the author signal the story’s three acts and character’s changes or growth. Readers may also care about the red purse, too, because the girl loves it. If something happens to the red purse, our emotions may be tugged.

…The red purse is like a red cardinal appearing amid a snowy white landscape, flagging our attention.

…Example 2: Author Jo Nesbo

…Author Jo Nesbo used white snow and contrasting color to great advantage in his chilling murder suspense, THE SNOWMAN, set in Norway. Amid the bleak, black winter shadows the killer always leaves behind a white snowman at the murder location. Each snowman wears a brightly colored scarf. The purpose? The sleuth (and agent/editor/reader) has to read to find out. The color amid chilly white is a plot tool and makes this a memorable novel.

…What color enhances (or could enhance) your manuscript’s characterization and plot?

Anyway, now that the Vikings are out of the running for the rest of the playoffs (raise your hand if you’re surprised. What? Anyone? Yeah, me neither. There’s always next year), I can use that time to catch up on those annoying chores, like cleaning. Ugh.

Maybe when my Muse gets back, he’ll have some deep insight to share with me ….

Happy Writing!